Tornado Alley Spread East

Last week the Philadelphia area experienced a mini tornado outbreak with three straight days of watches and warnings. Of course further west in the traditional Tornado Alley, far more storms of far greater intensity were wreaking havoc. But with tornado warnings going off every few minutes just outside the city of Philadelphia, it was hard to concentrate on storms in, say, Oklahoma.

But the New York Times did. And they put together a nice graphic showing the timeline of the outbreak using small multiples to show where the tornado reports were located on 12 consecutive days.

Who remembers the film Twister?
Who remembers the film Twister?

Of course the day of that publication, 29 May, would see another few dozen, even in and around Philadelphia. Consequently, the graphic could have been extended to a day 13. But that would have been rather unlucky.

From a design standpoint, the really nice element of this graphic is that it works so well in black and white. The graphic serves as a reminder that good graphics need not be super colourful and flashy to have impact.

Credit for the piece goes to Weiyi Cai and Jason Kao.

Natural Disasters

Today’s piece is another piece set against a black background. Today we look at one on natural disasters, created by both weather and geography/geology alike.

The Washington Post mapped a number of different disaster types: flooding, temperature, fire, lightning, earthquakes, &c. and plotted them geographically. Pretty clear patterns emerge pretty quickly. I was torn between which screenshots to share, but ultimately I decided on this one of temperature. (The earthquake and volcano graphic was a very near second.)

Pretty clear where I'd prefer to be…
Pretty clear where I’d prefer to be…

It isn’t complicated. Colder temperatures are in a cool blue and warmer temperatures in a warm red. The brighter the respective colour, the more intense the extreme temperatures. As you all know, I am averse to warm weather and so I will naturally default to living somewhere in the upper Midwest or maybe Maine. It is pretty clear that I will not really countenance moving to the desert southwest or Texas. But places such as Philadelphia, New York, and Washington are squarely in the blacked out or at least very dark grey range of, not super bad.

Credit for the piece goes to Tim Meko.

Cold, Dangerous Cold

It’s cold out in Chicago. And not just the usual winter cold, but record-setting cold. And when the temperature gets that low, when you mix in a little bit of wind, it can become dangerous very quickly. In an article about the weather conditions in the Midwest, the BBC included this graphic at the end.

You don't want to be in the lower right
You don’t want to be in the lower right

Even the slightest bit of wind decreases the time one has before frostbite sets in. So wrap up and stay warm, everyone.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

PECO Outages Five Years Ago

Christmas time is a time when people receive gifts. Well this year was no different and I received a few. One, however, was in a box stuffed with old newspaper pages. And it turns out one of said pages had a graphic on it. So let us spend today looking at this little blast from the past.

The piece looks at PECO outages, PECO being the Philadelphia region’s main electricity supplier. The article is full page and is both headed and footed with photography, the graphic in which we are interested sits centre stage in the middle of the page.

Full page design.
Full page design.

Overall the graphic is fairly compact and works well at showing the distribution of the outages, which the bar chart below the choropleth shows was historically significant. (Despite my years in Chicago, I was somehow in the area for all but the storm written about and can confirm that they were, in fact, disruptive.)

Ice storms suck.
Ice storms suck.

The choropleth works, but I question the colour scheme. The bins diverge at about 50%, which to my knowledge marks no special boundary other than “half”. If that yellow bin represented, say, the average number of outages per storm or the acceptable number of outages per storm, sure, I could buy it. Otherwise, this is really just degrees of severity along one particular axis. I would have either kept the bins all red or all blue and proceeded from a light of either to a dark of either.

I probably would have also dropped Philadelphia entirely from the map, but I can understand how it may be important to geographically anchor readers in the most populous county to orientate themselves to a story about suburbia.

Lastly, I have one data question. With power lines down during an ice storm, I would be curious to see less of the important roadways as the map depicts and other variables. What about things like average temperature during the storm? Was the more urban and built-up Delaware County less susceptible because of an urban heat bubble preventing water from freezing? Or what about trees? Does the impact in the more rural areas have anything to do with increasing numbers of trees as one heads away from the city?

Those last data questions were definitely out of scope for the graphic, but I nevertheless remain curious. But then again, this piece is almost five years old. Just a look at how some graphical forms remain in use because of their solid ability to communicate data. Long live the bar chart. Long live the choropleth.

Credit for the piece goes to the Philadelphia Inquirer graphics department.

First Florence, Now Michael

You may recall a few weeks ago there was a hurricane named Florence that slammed into the Carolina before stalling and dumping voluminous amounts of rain that inundated inland communities in addition to the damage by the storm surge in the coastal communities. At the time I wrote about a New York Times piece that explored housing density in coastal areas, specifically around the Florence impact area.

Well today the New York Times has a print graphic about something similar. It uses the same colours and styles, but swaps in a different data set and then uses a small multiple setup to include the Florida Panhandle. Of course the Florida Panhandle was just struck by Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall.

Of course that track for Michael also brought significant rainfall to the areas recovering from Florence for a double whammy
Of course that track for Michael also brought significant rainfall to the areas recovering from Florence for a double whammy

This one instead looks at median income per zip code to highlight the disparity between those living directly on the coast and those inland. In these two most recent landfall areas, the reader can clearly see that the zip codes along the coast have far greater incomes and, by proxy, wealth than those just a few zip codes further inland.

The problem is that rebuilding lives, communities, and infrastructure not only takes time, but also money. And with lower incomes, some of the hardest hit areas over the past several weeks could have a very difficult time recovering.

Regardless, the recoveries on the continental mainlands of the Carolinas and Florida will likely be far quicker and more comprehensive than they have been thus far for Puerto Rico.

The only downside with this graphic is the registration shift, which is why the graphic appears fuzzy as colours are ever so slightly offset whereas the single ink black text in the upper right looks clear and crisp.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Cloudy in Europe

During my travels in Europe, I enjoyed very little sunshine. It did not rain often, but the skies were overcast in both Scandinavia and London. Turns out that at least in January, after my trip, Europe was covered in an inordinate amount of sunshine. The Guardian covered the story, with a graphic showing just how little sunshine has been seen in northern Europe.

Cloudy north of the Mediterranean
Cloudy north of the Mediterranean

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

All the Crazy Models

Over the last several weeks we dealt with the impact of a few hurricanes from H to K, i.e. Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Katia. Now that the Atlantic basin has quieted a wee bit, it is time we get back to the lighter side of things.

So we turn to xkcd and its look at ensemble models, often used to try and predict the paths of hurricanes.

I like to swap the victor of the colonial revolt in North America ca. 1776…
I like to swap the victor of the colonial revolt in North America ca. 1776…

Happy Friday, everyone.

Credit for the piece goes to Randall Munroe.

How Big Was Irma?

Like many Americans I followed the story of Hurricane Irma over the weekend. One of my favourite pieces of reporting was this article from the Washington Post. It did a really nice job of visually comparing Irma to some recent and more historic storms, such as 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

It can be difficult to truly compare hurricanes, sometimes they are small and compact, other times more dispersed. Irma was just big with lots of potentially destructive power spread out across a wide area, almost the width of the Floridian peninsula. The article uses several graphics—I am also quite partial to the satellite image comparison so check out the article—but this one is perhaps my favourite.

A look at four big storms
A look at four big storms

It uses a colour palette that deepens in redness nearer the storm’s centre. This allows the user to compare the geographic area or footprint of the storms destructive winds.

I wonder, however, what would happen if the designers had superimposed each graphic atop the other. It might have allowed for an even better comparison of size instead of having to have the user mentally transpose each hurricane.

Still, a really nice graphic and visual article.

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz, Laris Karklis, Reuben Fischer-Baum, and Chiqui Esteban.

Irma’s Impending Arrival

Your author is on holiday today and is actually writing today’s post on a Thursday night train to Boston. But by the time he returns late Sunday night—a Monday morning post is not guaranteed—Hurricane Irma will have likely made landfall somewhere along the Florida coast.

Thursday the Guardian published a nice article looking at the potential tracks for Irma. And while the specific routes will certainly be amended and updated over the weekend, the article is worth looking at prior to Irma’s arrival at Florida. As of my writing the track has shifted ever slightly westward and the current predicted path looks for Irma to land south and west of Miami. Ergo this screenshot is already a little outdated.

The three little wolves will huff and puff…
The three little wolves will huff and puff…

The remarkable thing about this graphic, which is just a cleaner version of the standard meteorological maps through more a more considered palette, is that there is not just one path of winds, but three. Following quickly on the heels of Irma are Katia and Jose, the latter the one taking the nearly same path as Irma while Katia spins towards Mexico.

But the graphic I really wanted to look at is the one ending the piece.

A very wide range of countries
A very wide range of countries

This looks at the countries in Irma’s path as of Thursday morning. What I do not understand is the vertical axis of the bars. What does the height represent? To simply show the rank of countries able to cope with natural disasters, a more straight-forward table could have been used. A dot plot would also make some sense, but again, it would require an understanding of the underlying metrics driving the chart.

The graphic is saved by the annotations, in particular the more/less vulnerable directional arrows. Because I do not understand why countries are grouped into the particular buckets, I find the coloured bins out of place.

I think the concept of showing the most vulnerable countries is terribly important, however, the graphic itself needed a little more thought to be a little more clear in presenting the concept.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Hurricane Winds

Irma swept the northern coast of Puerto Rico last night after devastating some of the Leeward Islands. What’s next? Well after the Turks and Caicos, Cuba, and the Bahamas we are probably looking at a Florida landfall. (Though in the last 24 hours the track has shifted ever eastward so Tampa Bay looks fine from a direct impact standpoint.)

Harvey was an exception in many ways because most deaths occur not from rainfall flooding, but from the storm surge. Basically a massive wave of water driven by low pressure and strong winds that is literally pushed ashore.

Now even though I just said that, I wanted to talk about the winds for a second. Why? Well it turns out that at 185mph, Irma has some of the strongest sustained winds ever recorded for an Atlantic hurricane. And 185mph winds, they can do quite a bit of damage. How much? Well for that we turn to this illustration from Vox.

You do not want to be around for a Category 5
You do not want to be around for a Category 5

Assuming the worst case scenario and Irma would strike just southwest of Miami, say Homestead or Key Largo, 185mph winds could do some damage to non-hurricane-safe buildings in a very large American city. And then there is the storm surge, which could be problematic for a city that is already struggling with rising tides. (Thanks, climate change.) The reason I say worst case is southwest of Miami is because hurricanes do most of the their damage—though certainly far from all of it—on their righthand side, which in a northward moving storm would be the eastern half.

The rest of the Vox piece does a nice job explaining Irma, its historic nature, and how it could be so dangerous. Worth a quick read, unless you live in Florida and then you should probably be packing up to evacuate.

Credit for the piece goes to Zachary Crockett.